Culture Club Conor Behan | Pocketmags.com
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Culture Club Conor Behan

A likeable R&B pop banger co-written by the likes of Max Martin (he’s co-written a stunning 22 number ones on the US charts) and Ariana Grande, Normani’s ‘Motivation’ is an instant earworm that easily calls to mind early ‘00s bangers like ‘1 Thing’ and ‘Get Right’.

What really made the track an overnight sensation though was the eye-popping video which pays homage to a glut of late ‘90s and early ‘00s pop queens. There are nods to Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy In Love’, J-Lo’s ‘I’m Real’ (yes it’s the same basketball court in both videos!), Britney’s teen pop heyday and the high energy choreography of Ciara.

‘Motivation’ hits a nostalgic sweet spot for a generation who grew up devouring the dance-move filled clips of a slew of pop heavyweights. The video’s opening, cleverly referencing US music countdown show 106 & Park, shows a young Normani gazing wistfully at the countdown and imagining herself there one day.

It’s a sweet nod to the impact of pop music representation especially for young black women who want to feel seen by a media that doesn’t always centre them. It gives the focus of the clip, in some ways a fairly standard set up, a different kind of thrust.

Normani’s ability to execute athletic dance steps with such apparent ease is an unashamed throwback to when pop music was less tinged with irony and more about showing how you were undoubtedly the biggest star in the room.

Part of the ecstatic response to ‘Motivation’ is a sense that few pop stars are really doing it this way anymore. That’s largely because of where pop music trends are generally: songs are more mid- to down-tempo, big choreography led videos are an expensive investment and not every popstar is as interested in fitting into that box. But that’s slightly inaccurate. Ariana Grande’s ascent to the pop big leagues is as glossy and glam as anything from pop stars in the ‘00s, Lizzo’s continued mainstream ascendance is, in part, thanks to her years of experience making her a scintillating live performer. Even the moody pop of Billie Eilish is pumped into something more explosive in a live setting, as anyone who witnessed her Irish debut at Electric Picnic will attest. Normani’s ‘Motivation’ cleverly nods to the past but still feels like a 2019 proposition. After all, she’s spent a solid 18 months doing high profile collabs with 6Lack and Calvin Harris and had two big hits with Khalid and Sam Smith before she presented herself as the spiritual heir to Beyoncé, Britney and Ciara. And her time in Fifth Harmony gives her a fan-base that justifies the outlay of videos that drip with expensive flourish.

Despite the griping of those who glance at the boring balladeers and random one-hit wonders on the charts, Normani is proof that a certain kind of pop showmanship executed with the right flair will always get audiences talking.

I Read

YA is a genre that has frequently made space for stories from outside the mainstream. The charming and utterly readable No Big Deal by Bethany Rutter tells a sweet and subversive story with ease. It follows Emily, who refuses to let being plus size hold her back, trying to find her feet with a burgeoning romance and not let her mother’s body hang ups get her down. It cleverly up-ends typical teen romance clichés in a way that will appeal to readers of every age. A delight from start to finish.

I Read

Jia Tolentino’s writing for Jezebel and The New Yorker has marked her out as a go-to voice on various burning cultural topics. In her first book, Trick Mirror, Tolentino’s writing is lyrical and precise, focusing her comprehensive lens on everything from weddings to the cesspool that is the internet in 2019. Her ability to blend the highbrow with accessible personal viewpoints makes for the kind of book you’ll devour as you find yourself nodding along in recognition.

I Watch

Sam Levinson’s gritty teen drama Euphoria has been a huge breakout TV hit this year. It’s surprising then that his 2018 film, Assassination Nation, hasn’t earned a similar cult following. It’s grimly funny, beautifully shot and at times terrifying and very much worth seeking out.

In its own hyper-stylised way it feels chillingly accurate in how it depicts the barely disguised hatred of the ‘other’ bubbling under the surface of our daily lives. It’s like a John Carpenter directed mash-up of The Purge and Heathers.

This article appears in the 358 Issue of GCN

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This article appears in the 358 Issue of GCN